Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

You know a film is good when throughout the entire runtime that slight, almost catatonic smile never leaves your face. All you can do is sit there reveling in the drama and soaking up the images, as if they were being melted onto the screen. There’s so much atmosphere in the first few frames of Billy Wilders’ 1944 noxious noire classic, that you immediately become engrossed in the momentum of the film; and so that by the time the plot kicks in there’s no choice but to take part. And that’s a deliciously, dangerous proposition, as the only thing sharper than Wilder’s script here, is the angle on the caper. 

There’s so much heat to this film, not just from the matches which MacMurray so impact-fully strikes, but from the mercurial nature of the relationships. It’s not a traditional dynamic, the one between MacMurray and Stanwyck, and that’s half of the film’s enigma. They feed off each other as if for sport, rather than love, and MacMurry never uses Stanwyck’s name unless as a formality when being coy around inspecting parties. He instead refers to her only as “baby”, as if completely intoxicated by his personal style fusing with hers. The lone occurrence of assumed intercourse seems to be fueled by lust and danger as he clutches her closely to the point of pain. His feelings for her are right in line with those she has for him, as she later confesses that she could never love anyone at all. At least that’s what she had thought before she couldn’t pull the trigger twice, sparing her cohort turned adversary. But then again, maybe she’s still working him. Maybe even still, as her eyes somehow enflame and water at the same time, in chorus with words of how she truly loves him, that even this is merely posturing; that she is truly, as she said earlier, rotten to her core. In an unbelievable display of callous and pragmatic decisiveness, MacMurray brings her close and plugs her twice in the chest. Stanwyck’s antecedent declaration of love is left hanging in the air, those rancid words left unconfirmed. 

The other half of the enigma, is the apposing dynamic between MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson’s “Keyes” and how strongly the two seem to care for one another. Is it just a bond created by proximity and time? Not likely. True the two men have been working together for eleven years, but their reverence for one another goes well past that of seasoned co-workers; and when Robinson turns the tables and finally flicks a match for MacMurray you have to wonder just how strongly Wilder intended the homosexual undertones to be as he worked his way past the censors. 

Whether you choose to look into that angle or not, Robinson’s relationship to MacMurray seems to be what Wilder is interested in most. The final scene shared between the two actors is what sticks with you. It’s a wonder how so much tenderness could come from the ever terse and guarded MacMurray, as the final frame burns out in rhythm with the match.

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